Project Healing Waters Veteran John Figg focused on his cast at the Golden Gate Casting Pools ... Volunteer Roger Mascio looks on approvingly ... Photo by CJ Glynn

Casting To Heal

PROLOGUE
The year 2020 will always be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic which has markedly altered the lives of millions worldwide.  Here in America, few have been impacted as significantly as those who have served in our nation’s military and have borne the scars of conflict.  Yet these veterans, like America itself, in these times of added stress and isolation have demonstrated remarkable resilience here at home. One sanctuary which remains open for our disabled U.S. military veterans is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF).


This nationwide non-profit organization helps disabled veterans with their rehabilitation by engaging and supporting them in all-things fly fishing, from the fundamentals to fly tying, fly rod building, fly casting, and outings on America’s waters.   

“Casting to Heal” reflects on how one Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program builds incredible camaraderie and how fly casting is the thread that weaves it all together for these veterans to heal full circle.

Project Healing Waters Veteran John Figg focused on his cast at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Volunteer Roger Mascio looks on approvingly … Photo by CJ Glynn

CASTING TO HEAL
The PHWFF San Francisco program brings disabled veterans together with certified volunteers from the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club (GGACC) at the venerable and internationally acclaimed Golden Gate Angler’s Lodge & Casting Pools. It is here that PHWFF participants learn both the art and the science of casting a fly rod, in effect harnessing the air and their minds with the beauty of the cast.

Obtaining such competencies together with fellow disabled veterans enables them to then apply these skills individually on nature’s holy waters. 

Indeed, it all then comes together here — casting to catch and mending to mend on Northern California’s rivers and streams – in a sense completing the healing lifecycle with pride and renewal at some of the most beautiful places on earth.

With Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force veteran John Figg has found real acceptance, and with it peace of mind.

“PHWFF San Francisco has provided me with mental, spiritual, and intellectual challenges and rewards.  The friendships and camaraderie are especially rewarding.  I’m still working to perfect my casting.  I find I need to relax and get into a rhythm, almost in a musical sense.” 

Bob Rathborne, PHWFF Volunteer and Certified Casting Instructor, demonstrates casting techniques to Veterans at Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … Photo by CJ Glynn

HEALING BY THE GOLDEN GATE
In the summer of 2017, the San Francisco program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was formed in partnership with GGACC.  That year and each of the two ensuing years, classes were held every other week at the Golden Gate Angler’s Lodge & Casting Pools for upwards of 20 disabled veterans and more than 15 Club volunteers offering instruction in fly casting, fly tying, stream entomology, and angling tactics. 

PHWFF San Francisco’s program efforts to help those who have served would not be possible without the enthusiastic backing of the GGACC Board members, volunteers, and general membership, many of whom have generously donated funds and fly fishing gear.

Since the program’s inception, PHWFF San Francisco also benefited greatly from the generosity of the Commandery of St. Francis, Order of St. John, a non-profit volunteer entity which raises funds solely in support of programs helping American veterans, principally in the San Francisco Bay area.

PHWFF Veterans in fly tying class at Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … Volunteer William Little coaching (standing)
PHWFF Veterans & Volunteers preparing for the annual December holiday party, class, and auction at the Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … Photo by CJ Glynn

Similarly, the PHWFF San Francisco program received enduring community support from California Trout, Golden Gate Chapter of Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Coogan Fly Fishers, Lost Coast Outfitters, Wild Waters Fly Fishing, and Diablo Valley Fly Fishing in concert with the PHWFF Martinez CA program.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, all PHWFF in person activities and events were suspended nationwide for the remainder of the year.  These have been replaced with virtual online core program activities.  Thus, every other week PHWFF San Francisco’s participants now enjoy catching up with one another and GGACC volunteers while they remotely practice fly tying, knot tying, and fly fishing tactics.  

Moreover, the Program’s participants on their own are now finding ways to further hone their casting skills and get on the water, from San Francisco’s coastal surf to Northern California’s rivers and streams, to polish their angling techniques and enjoy nature’s embrace.  This would simply not be possible without the strong casting foundation provided by PHWFF and GGACC.

Veteran Martha Begay pauses to enjoy the PHWFF December holiday party at the Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … photo by CJ Glynn

PHWFF San Francisco  Martha Begay served in the U.S. Navy in 2000-2017 at many locations around the world, including Virginia, Bahrain, Iceland, Japan, and on board the USS Nimitz.  She served as a 1st Class Chief Petty Officer in Information Systems Technology.  Upon leaving the Navy, Martha enrolled in City College San Francisco where she is studying IT/Network Security.

I like the camaraderie of the people involved in Project Healing Waters San Francisco.  The veterans understand what each other has gone through and having relationships with them that goes along with fishing is helpful and calming.”

U.S. Navy Veteran Martha Begay (center, back row) with colleagues aboard the USS Nimitz
Veteran Tom Glynn speaking to the Commandery of St. Francis/Order of St. John … Photo by CJ Glynn

Last year, PHWFF and U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran Tom Glynn addressed the Commandery on the healing benefits of fly fishing and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing …

“The practice of fly fishing is very suitable for the healing process for Veterans.  It fully engages the mind, the intellect, and the emotions while at the same time placing you in an environment that is very intimately, I might say almost in a holy way, connected to nature.  I think it is both exciting, and it is also contemplative.  It encourages social interaction, and it allows and respects solitude.  So, I have found it to be a very salubrious practice.  

I’ve learned a few things from Project Healing Waters that I’d like to share with you.  The first thing I learned is that fishing is about a lot more than catching fish.  The second thing I learned is that there is a special, unique camaraderie between Veterans and other Veterans and military people, and this can be very, very useful in the healing process, healing from the internal wounds of war.  The third thing I learned and is probably the most personal and most important to me, is that that I am not alone, and that people really do care.”

COACHING TO CAST
The profound impact of casting and healing at the Golden Gate Casting Pools is captured here by photographer CJ Glynn in his poignant images of veterans learning together with nurturing volunteers to build a strong connection and foundation of healing.  As one volunteer reflects … “After all, it’s all about the healing.”

Project Healing Waters Veterans casting with Volunteers at Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by CJ Glynn
Volunteer Leo Quilici demonstrates the roll cast to Veterans at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by CJ Glynn

PHWFF participant Rob Nugent, joined the U.S. Army in 2002.  He served as a Sergeant in the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq in 2003-2004 and later in Afghanistan in 2006.  The repeated traumas Rob experienced in combat led to his becoming an active participant in PHWFF San Francisco since its 2017 inception.  He has found solace from these traumas and experiences peace and camaraderie with fellow veterans while practicing casting at the Golden Gate Casting Pools.  He is now pursuing a degree in Psychology at Silicon Valley’s Cañada College.  

“Project Healing Waters is an excellent program that really helps this veteran find peace, both on the water and in my day-to-day life.”

Veteran Rob Nugent roll casts while Volunteer Pete Howes looks on approvingly … Photo by CJ Glynn
Veteran Patricia O’Daly gets ready to cast with assistance from Volunteer Dr. George Block … Photo by CJ Glynn

PHWFF participant Patricia O’Daly spent 6 years in the U.S. Air Force (1974-1980) as a jet aircraft mechanic (B52, KS125, F-4) in the USA and England.  She subsequently attended Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college in Massachusetts, from which she graduated cum laude as a Smith Scholar, preparing as her thesis the first oral history on women Vietnam veterans.  Pat has also served on the Women’s Board of Vietnam Veterans of America.  Currently Pat is pursuing a master’s degree in Natural Resources Management from Oregon State University.  As a disabled veteran in the PHWFF San Francisco program, Pat has forged strong connections with her fellow veterans and volunteers and has developed a keen interest in fly casting and fly fishing.  

“Project Healing Waters has provided me with a source of great camaraderie and peaceful meditation.  It is also a wonderful challenge and way to engage deeply with the natural world.  It has changed my life.”

PHWFF participant Blake McClendon served in the U.S. Army in 2013-2018.  As a member of the Florida-based 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), he carried out missions throughout Central and South America and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6). Presently working at Swords to Ploughshares to help homeless Veterans find housing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Blake is also hard at work on his thesis for a Masters in Poetry & Fine Arts at the University of San Francisco.  On weekends Blake travels to a remote retreat where he sets up camp in a primitive cabin, hikes the rugged Sierra foothills, and fishes the nearby trout streams.  

“I couldn’t be more grateful for my limited time and experience with you guys to combine my passion for Veteran advocacy with fishing.”

U.S. Special Forces Staff Seargent and PHWFF Veteran Blake McClendon wishes his Mom “Happy Mothers Day” from afar
U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant and PHWFF Veteran Levie Isaaks (top left) takes a break with his platoon in Vietnam, 1967

PHWFF participant Levie Isaaks was drafted in 1965 and enrolled in the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School.  He subsequently became a 1st Lieutenant and Platoon Leader of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.  In 1967 the 3rd Battalion found itself engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War, on Hill 724 in the Battle of Dak To.  Most of the other officers had been killed when Levie called in close air strikes, which in the words of a wounded comrade … “They saved us.”  For his heroism in Vietnam, Levie was awarded two Bronze Stars and an Army Commendation for Valor.

Levie’s long road has him led from a Vietnam combat veteran to an award winning cinematographer. After graduation from the University of Texas in Austin, he worked in broadcast journalism and later in commercials and documentary films.  He has since produced over 30 films, winning many of his awards as a Director of Photography for independent films and television. Suffering from combat related post-traumatic stress, Levie joined the PHWFF San Francisco program in 2019.  Before COVID-19, he regularly made the 60 mile drive from his home to the Golden Gate Angler’s Lodge & Casting Pools for PHWFF classes.  Recently Levie ventured out for a day trip to the Yuba River in the Sierra foothills near Sacramento, his first such outing with fly rod in hand.  

“It was such a breath of fresh air to discover Project Healing Waters.  Fly fishing is a sport I have longed to participate in.  I found dedicated brothers who have taken me under their wing where I can learn this engaging sport, finding peace in my heart and have fun in the wilderness.”

PHWFF participant Stephen DeVaughn was born in Manchester, England while his father served in the U.S. Air Force.  He served in the U.S. Navy in 1971-1973 and medically retired for injuries sustained while on active duty.  Stephen got his Accounting Degree at Golden Gate University in 1979 and has worked as a professional photographer since 1989.  A PHWFF San Francisco participant for 4 years, Stephen has been on numerous Northern California outings where he has learned basic fly casting techniques, fly tying, and knot tying. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing enabled him to socialize with people who might understand some of his past emotions from the service.  The program has opened up fly fishing to him, which is something he never considered himself able to do due to hand injuries from his military days.  As he works through his manual dexterity issues with fly fishing, he enjoys getting away from the city and into nature.  

“I started with Project Healing Waters in the first season.  I didn’t really anticipate liking this or anything, but it was just nice to get out of the city and up on the river.  Now I’m looking for places to go fishing on my own!  Project Healing Waters has been very supportive of every vet, and everyone is treated with a lot of respect and patience.  There are no gory war stories, it’s actually the opposite of that.  The ‘healing waters’ part is an appropriate name for it.  Being with people and learning to fish and seeing the joy in it has been something I can do to take my mind off all my issues.  I get lost in the activity and even when I don’t catch any fish, it doesn’t really matter because I’m just out there appreciating life.

Veteran Stephen DeVaughn casts while Veteran Patrick Minnifield looks on … ‘Vets helping Vets’ at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by CJ Glynn

PHWFF participant Patrick Minnifield grew up in the outdoors of Alabama where hunting, fishing, and farming were part of his childhood.  Upon graduation from high school, he served in the U.S. Navy in 1987-1996 which put him through boot camp in San Diego, CA and submarine training in Connecticut.  He was then assigned to the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor where his first submarine duty was on the USS New York City, after which he worked on the personal staff of the Admiral commanding the Submarine Force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  Subsequently while serving as 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6) and crew member aboard the submarine USS Parche out of Mare Island, CA, Patrick was forced to retire for medical reasons after 9 years of service.  After his military service, Patrick earned a Certificate Degree from Santa Rosa Junior College and today is very active volunteering for numerous projects and nonprofit organizations in his community.  Patrick’s involvement in Project Healing Waters has opened new doors for him.

“The camaraderie and support I’ve gotten through Project Healing Waters has gone a long way towards the healing of my mind, body, and soul.  The time I spend with veterans and volunteers casting at the ponds, tying flies in the lodge, and fishing on the streams has been very therapeutic.”

Driven by her passionate desire to serve, veteran and PhD Psychologist Connie Louie-Handelman joined the U.S. Army at the age of 56.  In 2011-2012, she was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan where she found the soldiers fighting more than the enemies they encountered in the battlefield.  A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Connie authored The Hidden War – Memoirs of a Psychologist Treating Warriors at a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan, which recounts her experiences during this deployment.  Upon return to her home, Connie worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs at the San Francisco Veterans Center as a readjustment psychologist.  Connie’s participation in the San Francisco program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing offered her opportunities not only to pursue her interests in both fly fishing and photography, but also to address her hidden wounds of war.  

“San Francisco Project Healing Waters was welcoming from day one.  I easily connected to the joy of fly fishing and understood members’ hesitancy of sharing, yet cognizance of their and my lingering war experiences.  With time, we can move forward by catching and releasing trauma bit by bit.”

PHWFF Veteran Dr. Connie Louie-Handelman heading outside wire in Afhganistan, 2012
Volunteer and Certified Casting Instructor Bob Rathborne helps Veteran Leland Chune improve his casting stroke … Photo by CJ Glynn

PHWFF participant Leland Chune is a charter participant in the PHWFF San Francisco program.  He served in the U.S. Navy in 1972-73 as a Seaman Apprentice (E-2).  He was assigned to the USS Higbee which was bombed by a MIG fighter off the coast of North Vietnam in July 1972.  

“I find the camaraderie and casting associated with PHWFF helps me mentally and physically in forgetting about my PTSD.”

Another PHWFF San Francisco participant is Henry Rose, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, 1966-67.

“I joined Project Healing Waters because I wanted to learn to fly fish.  I find casting, especially roll casting, relaxing.  I also like the camaraderie that comes from associating with the other vets and the volunteers.  My time spent volunteering for the Marine Corps League, the VA in San Francisco, and other organizations serving veterans is similarly rewarding.” 

U.S. Marine and PHWFF Veteran Henry Rose Jr. (left) loading sand bags in Vietnam, 1967
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Here at the Golden Gate Casting Pools, these Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing participants take their casting seriously while learning to combine the technical intricacies with the graceful and artistic intermingling of fly lines in this idyllic setting.  Says one volunteer … “It’s almost symphonic!”

Veteran Dale Smith works on her casting loop at Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by CJ Glynn

COMPETING TO CAST
Each summer, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing hosts a National Fly Casting Competition.  In 2019 the competition was held in Bozeman, Montana on the campus of Montana State University during the Fly Fishers International Expo.  The national competition begins at the local program level, where disabled veteran participants learn the skills and nuances of fly casting from experienced volunteers.  The winners of the local, and subsequently regional competitions advance to compete in the national finals. 

A total of 27 PHWFF disabled veteran participants competed in two separate brackets (Cup, Plate) with champions emerging from each. The competition itself presented the veterans with a diverse set of fly casting challenges focused on particular skills like accuracy and distance.  Six PHWFF San Francisco  participants competed in last year’s fly casting competition, preparing well and practicing hard with volunteer instructors at the Golden Gate Casting Pools. Here they focused on casting accuracy at different distances, changes in direction, obstacle targets, and distance without a target. 

PHWFF participant Joe Hiney emerged victorious at the local San Francisco competition on the lawns of the Golden Gate Park.  The next step for Joe was to compete at the PHWFF Southwest Region competition with the winners of the other regional programs.  Joe placed in the top two spots and advanced to the national competition in Bozeman, where he proudly represented PHWFF San Francisco by placing 3rd in the ‘Plate’ division.

The San Francisco contestants reflected on the competition and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing…

Joe Hiney, U.S. Marine Corps veteran … ” Project Healing Waters has energized my life when I was thinking I no longer had a purpose to keep going.  I love the fishing and helping other veterans to find that purpose to make life better.  When I heard about the casting contest, I practiced at meetings and set up a course at a local park where I practiced daily.  As a beginner, the valuable practice and tutelage I received from a great instructor, volunteer Bob Rathborne, helped me immensely.  I was happy to just be in the competition with many veterans.  I was really pleased to place third in my division, this being my first time.”

Leland Chune, U.S. Navy veteran … “I enjoy casting and learning the techniques. Before joining Project Healing Waters, I knew nothing about fly casting, but really got into it.”

Ray Durham, U.S. Army veteran … “Being involved in Project Healing Waters gets me up and out of the house, with something to do and something new to learn.  I find the vets have different ideas about things but still have something in common and get along because of their military service.”

Bill Avants, U.S. Navy veteran … ”In the short time I have been coming to Project Healing Waters, my fishing skills have improved and I’ve met quite a lot of people, but the biggest reason is I’ve been able to see God’s wondrous nature.”

John Ness, U.S. Army veteran … “Project Healing Waters means a lot to me.  I am so very fortunate to be part of this wonderful and knowledgeable group of veterans and volunteers.  They so willingly and patiently take time to teach me all the aspects involved in fly fishing.  I am so very grateful to all the members of Project Healing Waters.”

Ken Broussard, U.S. Navy veteran … “Being involved in PHWFF for the past few years has been a remarkable experience on so many levels.  If I had to pick one, I’d say the sense of esprit de corps between the veterans, instructors, and volunteers is right up there at the top.”

HEALING ON THE WATER
Northern California is home to some of the most iconic fly fishing waters in the country.  In the shadows of Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, rivers such as Hat Creek, McCloud River, Klamath River, Pit River, Fall River, and the Upper & Lower Sacramento Rivers are renowned in the fly fishing world for their beauty and prolific fisheries.  In such environs, the PHWFF participants discover the restorative qualities of nature and the camaraderie forged on the water and around the campfires.

It is here that photographer CJ Glynn captures a PHWFF San Francisco outing on the remarkable Lower Sacramento River. For the past 3 years, disabled veterans and GGACC volunteers return to the ‘Lower Sac’ near Redding CA area to test their fly casting and fishing skills they so carefully honed at the Golden Gate Casting Pools.

Float fishing the Lower Sacramento River is an alluring destination for many Northern California fly fishing enthusiasts.  Lake Shasta, California’s largest water storage reservoir, ensures ideal cold tailwater for rainbow trout year around, as well as seasonal habitat for anadromous steelhead and salmon.  

This 2018 ‘Lower Sac campaign’ was led by volunteers Henry Little and Cal Nakanishi who provided an exceptional experience for 7 deserving participants.  Guides from Confluence Outfitters skillfully and caringly provided the veterans with top notch instruction on ‘water-loading’ casting and fishing techniques, to ensure a good float for one’s nymphing rig.  Moreover, the guides emphasized the need to keep one’s eyes on the indicator, to observe a ‘take,’ and to respond with a ‘strike.’  

Many participants found the transition from the casting pools to water-loading nymphs on the river comparable to the transition from sighting-in an M16 on the military rifle range to firing one during live fire in full combat gear. While the participants were not always successful when casting, observing, and responding, they surely luxuriated in the remarkable beauty of the river and the therapeutic qualities of fly fishing.

Volunteer Cal Nakanishi and Confluence guide Kevin Kay admire Veteran Ebenezer Aforo’s first ever trout landed on a fly … Photo by CJ Glynn
Exceptional beauty throughout the Lower Sacramento River, manifested in this stunning rainbow trout … Photo by CJ Glynn
Led by PHWFF San Francisco Program Lead Henry Little (center) and Volunteer Cal Nakanishi (far right), Veterans and Volunteers wrap up their day on the Lower Sacramento River … Photo by CJ Glynn
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Off the river, the PHWFF participants and volunteers were guests at The Nature Conservancy’s 37,000 acre Dye Creek Preserve in the Lassen foothills.  Before enjoying barbecued steak and chicken and spending the night in the Dye Creek bunkhouse, the guests were taken by Conservancy staff on a tour of the Preserve’s rugged volcanic landscape of blue oak woodlands, wildflower fields, and vistas of Mount Lassen.  After long days on the water and delicious dinners, the group would sit around the campfire telling fish tales and reflecting on their healing experiences.

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Cal Nakanishi with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam, 1970

PHWFF San Francisco volunteer Cal Nakanishi, served as a Captain and Airborne Ranger with the U. S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.  

As a fly fisherman for over 40 years, I personally have enjoyed ‘vets serving vets,’ and have been particularly gratified relating to their military backgrounds and helping the vets transcend into the inner calm of healing.”

In closing, Henry Little offers a touching perspective …“While convalescing at Valley Forge General Hospital in the Pennsylvania countryside, I often found refuge and solace on nearby trout streams. There, when casting to trout in the fragrant spring air my mind would calm, my spirits would brighten, and my thoughts would recall earlier times spent on other such streams, often with friends, yet also seemingly solitary amidst nature’s beauty.  Since then, more than 50 years have passed, but the sense of wonder endures…casting, caring, camaraderie.

As it was for those of us in that half-way-house-like hospital in which I and other soldiers recovered, what makes Project Healing Waters so meaningful for those of us involved — veterans and volunteers alike — are the values we all share … concern for others and patriotism, and out of that concern and patriotism, giving back to one another.  

Here, “Casting to Heal” is an opportunity to do just that … to give back not only to our veterans and volunteers, but also to the many loyal Catch Magazine readers and patriots who care for those who have given so much to our country.” 

EPILOGUE
Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club
The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club (GGACC) has more than 1,300 members worldwide.  GGACC members enjoy fishing the globe for all species of fish and many members are world-renowned for their casting, rod design, and fly tying expertise.  Here, world renowned fly fishing photographer and GGACC member Val Atkinson captures the beauty of this historic lodge and casting pools.

The GGACC was organized in June 1933 as an offshoot of the San Francisco Fly Casting Club, which was formed in 1894 when the first fly casting tournament was held at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. GGACC is one of the oldest, largest, and most storied angling and casting clubs in the world.  GGACC occupies the Golden Gate Angler’s Lodge in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which – along with the casting pools directly adjacent to the lodge – were built in 1938 by the World Progress Association.  The first national tournament was held in 1939 at the newly dedicated facilities.

Founded in 1894, the San Francisco Fly Casting Club at Stow Lake.
Pat Krause and Carl Hittenberger at the 1939 GGACC national fly casting tournament.
In 1939, the first national casting tournament was held at the new Golden Gate Anglers Lodge and Casting Pools in Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Anglers Lodge & Casting Pools in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA … Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson
Fly rods assembled at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson

The GGACC’s Learn to Fly Fish Program (LTFF) is offered primarily for new Club members who have already learned to make basic casts with a fly rod and want to put their new casting ability to good use on the water.  The goal of the LTFF program is to teach fly fishing knowledge and skills to beginners so they can better enjoy our great sport. 

The GGACC’s Rendezvous Program offers group fishing trips (called ‘rondies’) for those active Club members who are already experienced fly fishers and wish to participate in these club-organized fishing trips for the companionship they offer and the opportunity to fish these venues.  Experienced fly fishers are considered to be those who have done considerable fly fishing on their own without requiring guides or other necessary help.  Participants may include recent graduates of the “Learn to Fly Fish” Program.  

The GGACC’s Monthly Free Fly Casting Lessons are open to both Club members and to the general public of all ages.  These free fly casting lessons are generally held on the 2nd Saturday of each month year-round at the Golden Gate Casting Pools.  These morning lessons are followed by a free small lunch courtesy of GGACC. 

The world’s best spey casters compete at the annual ‘Spey-O-Rama’ at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by R. Valentine Atkinson

GGACC has held and regularly holds national and international casting competitions and currently hosts the annual world championship in Spey casting – the Spey-O-Rama –each April.  In addition to showcasing product exhibits and casting demonstrations, the best spey casters from around the world compete in this two-handed spey rod distance casting competition.

The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club hosting the internationally acclaimed ‘Spey-O-Rama’ … the World Championship of Spey Casting at the Golden Gate Casting Pools … Photo by Val Atkinson

The GGACC is devoted in introducing everyone to fly casting and angling at their historic Club and casting pools, promoting numerous programs, events, and competitions. For 87 years, the GGACC is unparalleled in its service to the fly fishing community, dominance in competitions, and excellence in leadership.

102018 annual meeting of the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club … Photo by Joanne Chow Winship

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.  PHWFF is dependent on tax-deductible, charitable donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, equipment, transportation, and related needs of its participants.  Charity Navigator, the largest evaluator of charities in the United States, rates PHWFF a Four Star Charity with an overall score of 95.1% out of 100%.

PHWFF began in 2005 serving wounded, ill, and injured active military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  PHWFF is unique in that its volunteers teach core program activities — fly casting, fly tying, fly rod building, and fly fishing education – on an ongoing, long term basis.  Moreover, disabled veteran participants are taken on fishing outings, to fishable waters both nearby and far afield.  However, for participants, PHWFF is much more than a one-day fishing outing, as the socialization and camaraderie engendered is just as important as the activities and the outings.  

Over 230 PHWFF programs nationwide currently maintain formal partnerships with and draw volunteers from 121 Fly Fishers International Clubs, 58 Trout Unlimited chapters, and 26 independent fly fishing clubs and associations such as the GGACC in San Francisco.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 25 PHWFF programs are temporarily inactive.  In 2019, over 3,700 volunteers donated over 277,000 hours serving over 8,300 disabled veterans and active military personnel.  PHWFF provides all program activities at no cost for all disabled veteran participants.

GGACC – PHWFF San Francisco Partnership
In April of 2016 at the international GGACC Spey-O-Rama competition, club member Henry Little struck up a conversation with a PHWFF Long Beach Program competitor who happened to mention his Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program. 

It wasn’t until June that Henry followed up with his Southern California contact, only to learn that David Lipscomb, the Program Lead of the PHWFF Martinez program across the Bay was scheduled to speak at the GGACC Board meeting the very next week.  Thus, it was then that Henry, himself a combat wounded Vietnam veteran, volunteered to work with David to launch the PHWFF San Francisco program.

Throughout the remainder of 2016, Henry recruited volunteers from the GGACC, signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the PHWFF Headquarters, developed a startup plan, disabled veterans were recruited through the San Francisco VA Medical Center, classes and outings were planned, and ‘seed’ funds were raised to ensure that all activities were provided at no cost to all veteran participants.

On Wednesday, January 26, 2017 the first PHWFF San Francisco class was held at the historic Golden Gate Angler’s Lodge.  These every-other-Wednesday meetings continued offering instruction on multiple fly fishing activities.  In addition, each year roughly 8 outings were conducted by the volunteers and professional guides on Northern California waters.  These outings have taken the veterans striper fishing on San Francisco Bay, steelhead fishing on the Klamath River, shad and trout fishing on the Lower Sacramento River, and trout fishing on the Upper Sacramento River and McCloud River.

At one ‘Upper Sac’ outing, PHWFF participants and volunteers were guests at California Trout’s scenic Shasta Springs Trout Camp.  On the fabled McCloud River, the PHWFF participants camped at The Nature Conservancy’s McCloud River Preserve.  The Golden Gate chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted an annual PHWFF D-Day (June 6) barbecue and fishing outing at the Marin Rod & Gun Club on San Francisco Bay.

The strong cooperation between  the PHWFF San Francisco and PHWFF Martinez programs continues to this day leveraging each other’s best practices, key learnings, and experiences to continuously improve their programs for our disabled veterans.  This was never more evident than when both programs participated in a 2018 joint outing on California’s Fall River.  This outing was photographed by Val Atkinson and “Healing on the Fall” was published in Catch Magazine on Veterans Day of that year.

THE CAST

Henry Little
U. S. Army veteran Henry Little is the Program Lead for the PHWFF program at the GGACC.  He initiated the PHWFF San Francisco program’s creation and its strong partnership with GGACC in 2017.  A native of Rochester, NY, Henry received a BA degree in history from Hamilton College and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  He served in the U. S. Army from 1966 to 1969, during which time he was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and a Purple Heart as a combat infantry officer in Vietnam.

Henry went on to work in the conservation field for 38 years, principally with The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  His positions, among others, included serving as TNC’s Western Regional Director, founder of the TNC’s Hawaii Program, and Deputy Director of TNC’s International Program.  These roles involved him the establishment of the McCloud River Preserve in 1973, the Silver Creek Preserve in 1976, the Santa Cruz Island Preserve in 1978, programs in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico in the 1980s, as well as the Klamath River and Northern Sierra Projects in the early 2000s.  In 2010 Henry was awarded the Streamkeepers Award by California Trout for his work on the McCloud and Shasta Rivers.  Henry served on the Board of Directors of the Western Rivers Conservancy from 2011 until 2014 and remains a Director Emeritus as well as a member of its San Francisco Bay Area Advisory Committee.  

PHWFF San Francisco Founder & Program Lead Henry Little at the Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … Photo by CJ Glynn
PHWFF Martinez Founder & Program Lead David Lipscomb … Photo by Brian Miller

David Lipscomb
U.S. Navy Veteran David Lipscomb is currently the PHWFF Program Lead for Martinez CA.  He has also been a Deputy Regional Coordinator for the PHWFF Southwest Region.  In this role he supported 17 programs throughout the southwestern United States in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, David has 30 years of combined active and reserve service in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer.  He served on five submarines while on active duty and had five commands while in the reserves.  His business career took a varied route starting with the power industry and transitioning to the high tech world in California in the early 80’s.  His last positions were Project Director for EDS and Managing Partner for IBM Singapore.

David gained support and formal agreement to start a PHWFF program with the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing (DVFF) Club in 2011.  Their steadfast support in all areas – financial, instructional, and spirit has been the driving force behind the success of the program.  Over 50 dedicated DVFF volunteers are some of the best in the country for all dimensions of fly fishing.  This year, PHWFF recognized DVFF with the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Club Excellence Award for their support and partnership with the PHWFF Martinez program.

David is proud of the relationship the PHWFF Martinez program has forged with Henry Little and with the PHWFF San Francisco program, which combines a strong extended bond between the DVFF and GGACC fly fishing clubs.

CJ Glynn
Award-winning San Francisco-based photographer, author, and educator CJ Glynn specializes in landscape, travel, and fine art photography.  CJ creates images with both a bold, simple aesthetic and an insightful perspective. He combines dramatic photography, vivid colors, and artistic touches to create new, captivating visions of the world. As a published photography author and long-time educator, CJ also conducts photography seminars and workshops to help beginners and experienced photographers alike further their craft.  With a unique eye for artistic imagery, he brings out the interest in common scenes with big, bold colors and a unique point of view.  You can see his gallery of work at www.cjglynnphotography.com

“Working with the San Francisco program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has been both rewarding and fun.  I have learned that PHWFF is about more than fly fishing … it is also about healing, inner peace, and camaraderie for the veterans.  In the years I have spent photographing the participants of the San Francisco program of PHWFF, I have seen that the casting, fly tying, and fly fishing are truly therapeutic outdoor recreation — they help vets recover, both physically and emotionally.”

Photographer and PHWFF San Francisco Volunteer CJ Glynn … Photo by CJ Glynn
Renowned fly fishing photographer Val Atkinson on the PHWFF photo shoot for “Healing on the Fall” … Photo by Brian Miller

R. Valentine Atkinson
To experience the photography of Val Atkinson is to be instantly immersed into the special moments he has captured with his eye and his camera around the world. An internationally acclaimed fly fishing photographer and artist for over four decades, Val has encountered destinations, people, and fly fishing waters that many of us can only dream about. To journey through his imagery is to take a trip of a lifetime with light, composition, and color. Val will take you on adventures to some of the world’s most evocative and romantic fly fishing destinations. From the headwaters of New Zealand’s wilderness rivers to his home waters of Hat Creek and Fall River in California, Val explores the world to create visual stories that make you feel “I want to be there!”

Val’s own story began with his passion for fly fishing and photography while growing up in Zanesville, Ohio. Here he became enchanted with hometown author Zane Grey’s fly fishing journals. His visits to local art museums first shaped his artistic imagination transporting him into the moment. Val went on to earn his degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design where he studied photography, fine art, and composition. For the next 18 years he was staff photographer for Frontiers International Travel with his brilliant images capturing the essence of their global travel services. 

Val has since travelled to over 30 countries and his work has appeared in over 100 publications worldwide. He has published four fly fishing photography books – Distant Waters, Trout & Salmon, The Greatest Fly Fishing Around the World, Friends on the Water – and has contributed to countless others. In 2003 Val was inducted into the International Federation of Fly Fishers Hall of Fame.  Today Val has evolved from over 30 years of film photography to achieve mastery in digital photography. His passion for creating legendary work continues with worldwide photography assignments, publications, field workshops, and fine art prints.  You can visit Val’s gallery at www.valatkinson.com

Brian Miller
PHWFF Volunteer Brian Miller is the Outings Program Coordinator for PHWFF Martinez and a member of both the DVFF and GGACC clubs.  Brian is a father of a disabled U.S. military Veteran, and is the principal author of “Casting to Heal” and two previous Catch Magazine Veterans Day publications … “Healing on the Fall” (2018) and “Three Perfect Days of Healing” (2019).

Photographer Val Atkinson and PHWFF Martinez Volunteer Brian Miller at Golden Gate Anglers Lodge … Photo by Brian Miller
“The Golden Gate” in San Francisco … Photo by CJ Glynn

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Casting To Heal

CJ Glynn & R. Valentine Atkinson

Healing on the Fall

R. Valentine Atkinson

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